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Australia v Thailand
AAMI Park, 5 September, 2017
|12||SHOTS ON GOAL||1|
They did it the hard way, but the Socceroos picked up the three points against Thailand with a nervy 2-1 win in Melbourne to edge closer to World Cup qualification.
After going into halftime at 0-0, the Socceroos opened the scoring when Tomi Juric headed home from an Aaron Mooy cross.
But that lead evaporated eight minutes from full-time when Pokkhao Anan rattled a powerful shot home off the underside of the crossbar to tie things up.
Thankfully for the home fans, Matthew Leckie snuck home the match-winning goal four minutes later to allow the Socceroos to seal the win.
Having claimed the three points, Australia will now be sweating on Japan to either draw with or defeat Saudi Arabia. Should the Samurai Blue, who are already qualified for Russia 2018, pick up at least a point against Saudi Arabia, the Socceroos will qualify for next year’s World Cup.
However if Saudi Arabia win, the Socceroos will finish third in Group B and be forced to go through a series of two-legged playoffs to qualify for the World Cup. The first of those playoffs will be against the third-placed team from Group A, and if they were to win that, they would then face the fourth-placed side from CONCACAF (Central and North America).
Australia host Thailand at AAMI Park in Melbourne in a crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting from 8pm (AEST).
So here we are, the final game of Group B which has so much at stake for Australia. Thailand, on the other hand, will be hoping to regain some sort of pride knowing that even a win will not stop them from finishing rock bottom of the group.
At the time of kick off in Melbourne, it will be 281 days from the start of the World Cup in Russia and it is still not known if the Socceroos will be there.
The defeat against Japan has put the pressure well and truly on Ange Postecoglou’s men and a convincing win will be needed to assure themselves the best possible chance of booking their place in Russia.
Australia will need to come out all guns blazing in this one as this group could very well come down to goal difference. As we stand, the Socceroos are level on points with Saudi Arabia, who are ahead on goal difference but have the much tougher match on paper when they entertain Japan in their final group game.
The disappointing factor for Postecoglou is that whether they qualify or not is officially out of his team’s hands, but everything will be swept under the carpet for now if they get the win and manage to qualify.
Nothing really clicked for the Socceroos in Tokyo, from a tactical and personal perspective it was a bad night at the office. The Australian boss has received a lot of criticism in the past few days but sometimes there is not a lot you can do if your key players on the night go missing.
The ball tempo in midfield will need to be at a higher level than what was seen against Japan, especially if Thailand sit back, which is expected. If selected, the likes of Jackson Irvine and Tom Rogic will need to come to the party and start popping the ball around with some purpose and get it into the striker’s feet a lot quicker than they did against Japan.
On the team front, it is a massive boost to have Aaron Mooy and Tomi Juric back in the fold, and both players should come into the side and offer some much-needed creativity going forward.
In Juric, Australia have a target man that can hold the ball up and link play, something which Robbie Kruse struggled to do on Thursday night. That’s no criticism of Kruse, as he clearly isn’t a number nine and was played out of position against Japan.
Thailand come into the game with nothing but pride to play for but Australia should not take them lightly; a 2-2 draw last November showed that, on their day, they can match it with the best teams in Asia.
The mood coming out of the Thai camp is a relaxed one and sometimes that can be a dangerous mood to encounter. With all the pressure on Australia, it could give Thailand the freedom to go and express themselves and to enjoy the game.
Australia will need to keep a close eye on Teerasil Dangda, who has scored three times against the Roos on previous occasions, and also Chanathip Songkrasin, who has recently moved to Japan to play for Consadole Sapporo. With a low centre of gravity and sharp turn of pace, he is someone that will need close attention in Melbourne.
Does it get any bigger than this? A fourth consecutive World Cup appearance is on the line for the Socceroos, who are playing at home, needing to score goals. Can the players handle the pressure??
My answer is yes. After the disappointment of the Japan game, I feel Australia have a point to prove and will look to put on a show. They should win this game comfortably. If that is enough remains to be seen, but it should put them in a decent position before the Saudis meet Japan.
Player to watch
The Japan game highlighted how important Aaron Mooy is to Australia at the moment. They will be looking for him to grab this game by the scruff of the neck and drive the team forward with his clever passing.
He’s always a big influence from set pieces as well, so should have a big say on how this game goes.
Join The Roar for live scores and coverage of this crucial World Cup qualifier, starting from 8pm (AEST).